Thursday, December 06, 2007
"Negotiations are over"
NY Times Online
December 6, 2007
Boy Scouts Lose Philadelphia Lease in Gay-Rights Fight
By IAN URBINA
PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 4 — For three years the Philadelphia council of the Boy Scouts of America held its ground. It resisted the city’s request to change its discriminatory policy toward gay people despite threats that if it did not do so, the city would evict the group from a municipal building where the Scouts have resided practically rent free since 1928.
Hailed as the birthplace of the Boy Scouts, the Beaux Arts building is the seat of the seventh-largest chapter of the organization and the first of the more than 300 council service centers built by the Scouts around the country over the past century.
But over the years the fight between the city and the Scouts was about more than this grandiose structure in Center City.
Municipal officials said the clash stemmed from a duty to defend civil rights and an obligation to abide by a local law that bars taxpayer support for any group that discriminates. Boy Scout officials said it was about preserving their culture, protecting the right of private organizations to remain exclusive and defending traditions like requiring members to swear an oath of duty to God and prohibiting membership by anyone who is openly homosexual.
This week the Boy Scouts made their last stand and lost.
“At the end of the day, you can not be in a city-owned facility being subsidized by the taxpayers and not have language in your lease that talks about nondiscrimination,” said City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke, who represents the district where the building is located. “Negotiations are over.”
Mr. Clarke said talks ended this week when the deadline passed for the local chapter to change its policy; on June 1 the group will be evicted.
“Since we were founded, we believe that open homosexuality would be inconsistent with the values that we want to communicate with our leaders,” said Gregg Shields, national spokesman for the Boy Scouts. “A belief in God is also mentioned in the Scout oath. We believe that those values are important. Tradition is important. Our mission is to instill those values in scouts and help them make good choices over their lifetimes.”
In 2000, the Supreme Court decided a case — Boy Scouts of America v. Dale — involving an openly gay scout from New Jersey who was barred from serving as troop leader. The court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision that, as a private organization, the group had a First Amendment right to set its membership rules.
The issue became a local concern in Philadelphia in May 2003 when the national Boy Scouts held their annual meeting in the city. During the conference, a local scout challenged the organization’s policies by announcing on television that he was gay and that he was a devoted member of the organization. He was promptly dismissed by the local chapter, which is called the Cradle of Liberty Council.
Municipal officials drew the line at the Beaux Arts building because the city owns the half-acre of land where the building stands. The Boy Scouts erected the ornate building and since 1928 have leased the land from the city for a token sum of $1 a year. City officials said the market value for renting the building was about $200,000 a year, and they invited the Boy Scouts to remain as full-paying tenants.
Jeff Jubelirer, a spokesman for the local chapter, said it could not afford $200,000 a year in rent, and that such a price would require it to cut summer-camp funds for 800 needy children.
“With an epidemic of gun violence taking the lives of children almost daily in this city, it’s ironic that this administration chose to destroy programming that services thousands of children in the city,” Mr. Jubelirer said. He added that the organization serves more than 69,000 young people, mostly from the inner city, and that its programming focuses on mentoring and after-school programs instead of camping trips.
But Stacey Sobel, executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, a gay-rights advocacy group based in Philadelphia, said: “Allowing the Boy Scouts to use this building rent free sends a message that the city approves of their policy. We are not looking to kick the Boy Scouts out. We just want them to play by the same rules as everyone else in the city.”
Ms. Sobel said the city required that any organization that rented property from it agree to nondiscriminatory language in its lease. The Boy Scouts skirted the requirement by never having had to sign a lease because they were given use of the building by city ordinance in the 1920s.
Local scout leaders said they tried hard to find a compromise between the city and their own national office, and in 2005 they seemed poised to agree on a policy statement adopted by the Boy Scouts in New York, which did not renounce the prohibition against gay members, but affirmed that “prejudice, intolerance and unlawful discrimination in any form are unacceptable.”
But last year, city officials wrote Cradle of Liberty Council officials to say that suggested policy statement could not be reconciled with Philadelphia’s antidiscrimination ordinance.
On May 31, the City Council voted 16-to-1 to authorize ending the lease, though Mr. Clarke and other Council members continued trying to negotiate a settlement. Those efforts ended this week, Mr. Clarke said, adding that he had shifted his energy toward trying to see if there was a way the city could reimburse the group for improvements it had made to the property over the years.
Boy Scout officials said they do not have a cost estimate for the improvements, but Mr. Jubelirer said it would exceed $5 million.
Flipping through an aged book of fund-raising encouragement for construction of the building — from dignitaries like Helen Keller, Babe Ruth and Winston Churchill — Chuck Eaton, director of field service for the local chapter, noted how the past contrasted with the present.
In front of the building, the wording on a statue of a boy standing sentinel also marks the passage of time. “The past is our heritage,” it reads. “The present our opportunity. The future our hope.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company